Your child’s newest buddy could very well be an Artificial Intelligence-powered glitzy toy that draws in kids with its advanced features and humanlike expressions. The smart toy market aimed at toddlers and pre-schoolers is estimated to be 8.4 billion by 2020, as estimated by Research and Markets. Now that AI has waded into every facet of our lives, it’s only a matter of time when our little ones will grow up with their own AI companion. Before we dive into the ethics of having an AI companion, let’s thresh out the definition of an AI-powered toy and what it consists of. What goes into the making of these futuristic toys that are able to connect to a tablet/smartphone.
According to Wikipedia, a smart toy is one which is outfitted with its own intelligence through on-board electronics. This enables it to learn, behave in a particular fashion and change its action according to the immediate environment. Another key hardware feature of the smart toys are sensors, embedded inside that makes them aware of the surroundings and helps to understand if it is indoor or outdoor. These toys are networked together with other smart toys or a personal computer in order to enhance its play value or educational features.
The toys are also embedded with speech recognition software and other web search capabilities that significantly enhances its play value. However, smart toys present a serious downside when it comes to data security and privacy issues. A connected toy usually gathers information about the users which raises concerns on issues of data privacy. This data is stored in a database, and companies working on connected toys can use the data for their own purpose. Some of the information collected by smart toys is name, gender, birthdate, chat and voice messages, photos and even physical location.
Analytics India Magazine lists down top 5 AI-powered toys that could soon make way into your child’s bedroom. What’s interesting is these new range of cognitive toys are blurring the boundaries between man and machine.
Cozmo: Of all the toys, Anki’s Cozmo has grabbed maximum headlines for its design and overall cuteness. This pocket-sized gizmo, built by San Francisco robotics and AI startup Anki is known for its sophisticated programming and build genuine emotional connect with children. One of Cozmo’s high point is the data security feature, since none of the data gathered is transmitted or stored online.
CogniToys Green Dino: The cutest dino of all, CogniToys Green Dino was actually developed based on the responses by parent focus groups. This dinosaur is so far the only toy powered by IBM Watson’s cognitive capabilities, can learn in real time and even answer questions that are not programmed. A key feature of the Green Dino is that its Watson-powered AI engine churns out answers based on the child’s age and development level. The dino is outfitted with a speech recognition software that helps it understand everyday conversations, think of it as your child’s talking companion. It is also outfitted with sophisticated sensors that help it understand the specific gestures.
MiPosaur from WowWee: Defined as the future of pre-historic, this AI-powered dinosaur developed by RoboSapien simulates real-world behavior and can also dive into three modes – gesture mode, food mode and leash mode. It works like a trained pet and can also respond to actions such as a gesture of hand. The high point is you can play fetch with this interactive dino.
AI-powered Hot wheels: Similar to Anki’s toy race cars, Hot Wheels uses Artificial Intelligence to guide the car around the track. The AI in these cars enables them to read the track effectively in real-time and there are smart sensors that help them to sabotage their opponent. Overall, it gives an immersive experience and is akin to a real-world video game.
Talking Barbie: This is not your average Barbie you played with during your childhood. In addition to its traditional blonde hair and cinched waist, this Talking Barbie produced by Mattel comes with a doll’s belt buckle that doubles as a button for activating voice recognition, something that makes the doll lifelike and human. Powered by ToyTalk’s speech recognition software, it enables the Barbie to record the conversation and have an interactive conversation with children. According to ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob, Barbie is fed with 8,000 lines of dialogue, and can tailor the conversation she’s having with the child or the user. When Barbie records a conversation, it is transmitted to ToyTalk’s decision engine that uses natural language processing to pick an appropriate response. All in all, ToyTalk has made Barbie your child’s true companion.
With AI and robotics making way into everyday routine, it won’t be uncommon to having children interact with robots more frequently. However, there are serious ethical considerations of having an AI-powered toy as your child’s companion. Research indicates there are serious dangers of robots minding children since they lack the sensitivity, empathy and understanding the emotional needs of a child. Besides, AI toys raise several data privacy concerns and can be hacked to gain personal information such as physical location, gender, profile, internet browsing history and more. While many experts believe that consumer-grade AI toys have the potential to change the nature of way we interact, there is a creepiness factor associated with these toys that make them unfit as children’s artificial buddy.
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Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.